Americans’ Trust in the Internet Collapsing

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When asked whether digital platforms are doing a good job of keeping the internet safe and trustworthy, a staggering 75% of Americans answered “no.” Nearly two-thirds (64%) of those surveyed said their trust in digital platforms fell last year.

The “fake news” issue, a rising tide of malware attacks, the sale of counterfeit goods, problems associated with the placement of advertising next to objectionable content, privacy violations and horrific live videos of sexual assaults and murder all combine to demean the reputation of the platforms like Google, Facebook and Twitter and the internet as a whole.

The survey was conducted by Digital Citizens Alliance (DCA) between April 12 and May 17 by Survey Monkey. Responses totaled 1,240 and the margin of error is plus or minus 3.6%. The DCA is a self-described nonprofit “coalition of consumers, businesses, and Internet experts focused on educating the public and policymakers on the threats people in all walks of life face on the Internet.” The website does not indicate how the group is funded, but there have been reports that the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) is behind the group.

According to the DCA, in an earlier survey, half of Americans say they can’t necessarily tell whether some news stories are fake. That makes them less likely to rely on the internet as a source of news and information.

Content theft is also big business, and the burgeoning business of malware being bought and sold on the Dark Web is a $70 million business. The DCA cites an April Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warning that if consumers find “a site or app offering free downloads or streams of well-known movies, popular TV shows, big-league sports, and absorbing games, the hidden cost is probably malware.”

Brand advertising that appears next to offensive content represents a “breakdown in the advertiser system. Fully 95% of Americans included in the DCA survey said that they placed responsibility for digital advertising with the digital platform, the ad networks and the advertisers, in that order.

DCA said its survey results indicate that “a potentially toxic combination for these platforms is a perception that they are all-powerful but lack the moral compass or commitment to prevent being overrun by bad actors, which will no doubt force legislators and regulators to take steps to check their power.” The group recommends three steps for platforms to take:

  • Leverage “big data” to address the threats posed by criminals and other bad actors. This would involve sharing data among platforms and increasing human moderation of suspect sites.
  • Analyze better the data that digital platforms already collect to highlight anomalous and possibly illegal behavior.
  • Invest more in public awareness campaigns similar to earlier campaigns against drinking and driving by adopting a multi-stakeholder approach to educate consumers so they’ll know when they are in a potentially dangerous situation.

Read the full DCA report for more details and examples.